Efforts to save the Algoma Central Railway (ACR) passenger service have yielded results. A yet-to-be-named rail company is now poised to take over operations from Canadian National (CN) on the line that runs from Sault. Ste. Marie on the Michigan border to Hearst, Ontario.
In the winter of 2014 the Canadian federal government announced it would no longer provide $2.2 million in annual funding for the remote service after March 2015. CN stated it could not deliver passenger service on the 100 year-old line without that support and would subsequently discontinue it. In response, the ACR Passenger Service Stakeholders Working Group has developed a plan to bring a new third-party “on board” to operate the ACR line and its tour trains.
Both the unnamed rail company and CN have signed letters of intent to transfer the service to the new operator. Media announcements indicate that the name of the new company will be released once final agreements have been completed. In the interim, the operator has shared some details of its plans, which include diversifying the passenger services and tourism packages being offered.
Additionally, the company’s goal is to make the passenger line financially self-sufficient within five years. To facilitate that, the federal government is being asked to provide $7 million in support over five years, which represents a reduction in government support from the current amount of $2.2 million to $1.4 million annually. A study prepared by the chartered accounting firm BDO Canada found that the annual economic impact generated by the ACR service in 2013 ranged from $38.1 to over $48 million. Further, given the severe winter weather that can occur in northern Ontario, the rail line provides a form of reliable year-round travel to remote communities, First Nations peoples, tourist operations, trappers, and cottagers.
The ACR line is also incredibly important to the history of Canadian art. The famous Group of Seven travelled on the line in 1919 to paint the Algoma region with result being a series of paintings that marked a new and distinctive direction for Canadian art. This was art not inspired by European landscapes but by that of northern Ontario.
Further information about the Algoma Central Railway and efforts to continue service can be found at the website for the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains – CAPT – a non-profit stakeholder in the above working group that advocates for preservation and expansion of passenger rail in Algoma and neighboring regions. CAPT also provides a link to an online ACR Petition to lobby the CDN government to continue support for the ACR.
In addition to donations to support its work, CAPT sells a beautiful ACR Calendar and other merchandise at 2015 Calendar. This writer purchased a calendar over the holidays and can relay that the photos are well-chosen and the information provided quite interesting.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)